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Know the West

Ferrets to find new homes

  The endangered black-footed ferret may be hunting down prairie dogs in South Dakota as soon as September. The National Park Service recently approved release of at least 38 ferrets onto 42,000 acres of wilderness area in Badlands National Park. But there may be a hitch. Joe Zarki, public information officer for the park, says similar projects in Montana and Wyoming could limit the ferrets available for the Badlands. Breeding facilities in this country and in Canada have produced only 120 ferrets to divide among the three programs. In South Dakota, park biologists plan to downgrade the endangered ferrets' status to "non-essential experimental," once the ferrets expand their range outside the park. That means farmers and ranchers can avoid prosecution if they accidentally kill an animal. Harry Harju, who led Wyoming's ferret reintroduction project in 1991, in Shirley Basin, says problems with landowners have been rare there. Six new litters were found last summer in the area, which includes about 100 private ranches. For more information contact Joe Zarki at 605/433-5361.